A happier marriage of creativity and media

In the old days, creatives looked down on media types, so the latter set up on their own. Now they are back together – on equal terms. By Andrew McGuinness

It’s been one hell of a time to be in a media agency. First there’s been the emergence of the “new brush” agencies such as Naked, strutting their way into the market and luring clients with their creativity and zeal. Then more recently there has been the ongoing ITV merger saga – the final outcome not only resulting in the ousting of a media mogul but, it’s a safe bet, in the ousting of a few agencies – as clients understand the implications of having “agency deals” rather than “client deals” with the major broadcasters.

And now there’s a new challenge in the form of creative agencies beginning to offer media services either directly or, as Grey London has done, by taking a stake in a media company. Grey has taken a significant interest in Naked’s new venture, Naked Ambitions. And this summer, TBWA teamed up with sister media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD to launch a media division called TBWA Connections, which offers clients non-traditional media solutions.

Clients want to understand how these new offerings will work to the advantage of their brands. To answer that, it’s worth looking at the relationship between media and creative agencies over the past decade.

Ten years ago, media departments were still in the basement of creative agencies, with naive account people referring to media planners as “the people who put crosses in boxes”. Creative people operated under the illusion that they could get exactly what they wanted if they bought the media boys a pint in the bar.

Clients had a full service under one roof, but there was concern that creatives held all the power. In the Nineties, media proliferation, an increased focus from clients on efficiency, and the self-belief of creative people in media who weren’t willing to be emasculated, resulted in media agencies gaining unprecedented strength. Far from being at the tail-end of a full-service pitch, media thinking was elevated to the top table, with the creatives often being relegated in terms of perceived importance. Not before time, the creativity and inventiveness of media planners – which for too long had been subsumed in a creative agenda – were unleashed upon clients. And in many cases, the creative agencies didn’t like it, seeing the strength and power of the media agencies as a threat. This led creative agencies to defend their positions, and clients all too often ended up being given conflicting advice from their different agencies.

Now we have come full circle. Communications experts, whether in a creative agency, client organisation or media agency, increasingly believe that creative and media – the “what” and the “where” – should once again converge. For many, this view is a return to common sense. For others, it is a response to the theory of connections planning, an approach which considers all the points at which a brand could interact with consumers, rather than focusing only on conventional media channels. Fusing the “what” and the “where” is already delivering for clients and challenging some of the conventional demarcations that have hamstrung bright, creative minds. What, for instance, is the Nike 10k run – advertising, PR or promotion? Who cares? It has succeeded in inspiring 20,000 people to spend time with the Nike brand, and delivered enviable press coverage along the way.

So clients have full service under one roof again, but with the two disciplines now working in harmony. While the future may be just as turbulent as the recent past, for the brightest minds in the industry it does promise to be enormously exciting.

Andrew McGuinness is chief executive of TBWA/London

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